With reduced social distancing, borders re-opened and international travel once again on the agenda, experts are concerned that Australians are downplaying the prospect of a serious flu season in 2022.
A new consumer survey, commissioned by Australian vaccine manufacturer Seqirus, asked 1000 adults aged 18 years and over about their attitudes to the flu.
The results showed less than half (45 per cent) of Australian adults in the survey think flu is a very serious condition that can lead to death in vulnerable people.
Three in 10 respondents (29 per cent) say they are not intending to get vaccinated against the flu, while another 11 per cent are still undecided.
Leading infectious disease expert Professor Robert Booy says that we’ve had so little flu for so long that the reawakening of flu could be quite troublesome.
“For the last two years, we’ve had next to no flu, and vaccination rates have been low as well,” he says.
“As a consequence, the level of community protection has dropped significantly.”
“I’m concerned about the correlation between people who do not think that flu is serious and those who do not intend to get vaccinated,” Booy says.
The survey showed that Australians who do not intend to get vaccinated for flu in 2022 are more likely than those intending to get vaccinated to say that flu is not a serious condition (29 per cent compared to 11 per cent).
The data also showed a significant generational gap, with Baby Boomers more likely than younger generations to say they plan on getting the flu vaccine in 2022 (73 per cent compared to 57 per cent Gen X, 55 per cent Millennials and 43 per cent Gen Z).
However, younger generations are more likely to say they would like to understand their flu vaccination options (39 per cent Gen X, 42 per cent Millennials and 43 per cent Gen Z compared to 32 per cent Baby Boomers).
Booy also says there is a possibility that recent calls for Australians to “treat COVID just like flu” has had the unintended consequence of portraying flu as a milder disease.
“People need reminding that we’ve had some bad flu seasons in the past,” he warns.
Modelling data from 2010-2019, estimates that Australia averaged nearly 2800 annual flu deaths, with more than 6400 estimated deaths in 2017 and over 5200 in 2019.
There is no way of predicting what 2022 will be like so we need to do everything we can now to prepare.”
Two modest seasons of flu in Australia, limited personal contact and reduced international travel has clearly had an impact on attitudes, with only one in three (36 per cent) Australians in the survey concerned about the upcoming 2022 flu season.
According to Dr Daniel Furtner, medical director vaccines & biosecurity at Seqirus, protecting the public health of Australians will be crucial this winter, with our healthcare system facing pressure from COVID-19 and flu.
“The last few years have demonstrated how viruses can impact our lives, especially when we have low immunity,” Furtner says.
“It’s important that we continue to focus on public health efforts including protecting high-risk communities, reducing transmission and helping people recover quickly.
“Washing your hands, staying home if you’re unwell, social distancing, mask-wearing on public transport and vaccination will continue to be important measures for protecting us from viruses like flu.”